Stories of the Year: Conference Realignment and Growth
|Realignment means that teams like Duke and Notre Dame are now both part of a powerhouse ACC, while Maryland and Johns Hopkins will be in a new Big 10 starting in 2015. (Mark Abbott)|
Conference realignment, largely driven by football and basketball considerations, and expansive growth within lacrosse reshaped the sport's college landscape.
This was the first year for the expanded, 26-team NCAA Division I women's tournament, thanks to an increased number of conferences sponsoring the sport and the number of Division I programs reaching 100 this year, up from 91 in 2012.
The Big Ten in June decided to sponsor men's and women's lacrosse starting in spring 2015, with the Johns Hopkins men as an affiliate member of all things. Maryland will play one final season in an ACC super-conference, with Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, and new additions Syracuse and Notre Dame, before joining the Blue Jays in the Big Ten a year from now. And, hey, Denver is the Big East this season, go figure.
The Big Ten women's league will include Northwestern, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers, essentially dismantling the powerful lacrosse-only American Lacrosse Conference by taking the Wildcats, Buckeyes and Nittany Lions away.
The NCAA men's tournament, reacting to this and other conference shifts, will expand to 18 teams for spring 2014. Ten conferences will have NCAA tournament automatic qualifying berths this year, with the ACC and newly formed Atlantic Sun earning that status for this season. Without expansion, the at-large bubble would have allowed only six teams.
While many developments came at the Division I level, the most expansive NCAA growth continues to occur in the small college ranks. The number of Division III women's programs grew from 215 to 240, and the number of Division III men's teams went from 188 to 207. In all, men's lacrosse added 26 teams and women's lacrosse added 40 teams in 2013.
Lacrosse was the nation's fastest growing college sport in both genders, and with conference realignment in full effect, the game — off and on the field — was changed forever.
This story originally appeared in the December issue of Lacrosse Magazine. Don't get the mag? Join US Lacrosse and its 400,000-plus members today to start your subscription.